The Fram Expedition

1910 - 1912

Roald Amundsen had made his name by being the first person to sail through the Northwest Passage, in 1905. But his quest for adventure drew him towards the North Pole. In 1907 he borrowed a ship called the Fram, from fellow Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Amundsen was meticulous in planning his expedition towards the North Pole. He was finalizing his arrangements when, in 1909, news broke across the world that the American, Robert Peary, had reached the North Pole.

Not content with being the second person to reach the North Pole, Amundsen altered his destination. He secretly planned to be the first to the South Pole, telling only three of his closest associates. It was public knowledge that Captain Robert Scott was arranging his second attempt on the South Pole. Amundsen even kept the secret from Nansen, fearing he would refuse to allow him to use the Fram, as Nansen was also planning an expedition south.

Roald Amundsen set sail on 10th August 1910, with only four of his crew aware of their true destination. Once they reached Madeira, Amundsen broke the news to his crew; they were heading south. He also sent a telegram to Captain Robert Scott which read, ‘Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen.’

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen

Fram under sail

Fram under sail

Amundsen and his crew landed on the Ross Ice Shelf in January 1911. They were 788 miles from the South Pole. Amundsen knew it was a race between himself and Scott, and planned to take an uncharted, shorter route than the one Scott would be taking. He had made the decision to take dogs as draught animals, where Scott was taking ponies. Amundsen knew the dogs, unlike ponies, would be able to climb the steep mountain range that stretched across the edge of the Ross Ice Barrier. Amundsen also saw the dogs as a good supply of fresh meat, and planned from the beginning to use them as a food source.

The crew of the Fram, like Scott’s party, spent the winter laying food and supplies along the route to the pole. Amundsen however, stocked these depots with ten times more food than Scott.

Sverre Hassel at Framheim

Sverre Hassel in the oil-store at Framheim during Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition 1910-12

The race to the Pole

“The breath of men and dogs freezes as soon as it hits the air.”

Roald Amundsen

The expedition to the South Pole set off on the 7th September 1911, but even Roald Amundsen’s fastidious planning couldn’t account for bad weather; they had travelled 15 miles when bad weather forced them to return to camp.

“The dogs were magnificent. Twisting and turning their way through the mountains, across a maze of crevasses...The drops were sometimes terrifying.”

Roald Amundsen

After this set back, Amundsen waited another month for weather to improve, before making a second attempt. This time he took a smaller group of men, four in total, each with a sledge pulled by dogs.

The party made good progress with dogs, and traversed 11,000 feet up the frozen mountains in just four days. On 20th November they made camp, which was around six days ahead of schedule. Amundsen named this camp Butcher’s Shop, as this was where they planned to kill the weakest of the dogs. Twenty-four dogs were killed, and the meat distributed between the men and remaining dogs. This wasn’t an easy task for the men, they were attached to the dogs, but they knew it was necessary. They were left with 18 dogs - seven having perished on the route up – and a plentiful supply of food for their remaining journey.

As they prepared to leave the camp for the final push to the pole a blizzard descended, forcing them to stay in camp for another four days. Fearing they were losing too much time, and Scott’s expedition overtaking them, on the fifth day they decided to push on despite the weather.


On the 8th December they arrived at the farthest point Shackleton’s expedition had reached, 97 miles from the South Pole. The weather improved and they made the remaining journey in bright sunshine. Amundsen described feeling like a boy again, knowing his goal was so close. They made good time, and finally, double checking their readings, they arrived at the South Pole at 3pm on 14th December 1911.

They planted the Norwegian flag, and Amundsen named the area ‘King Haakon VIII’s Plateau’, after the Norwegian monarch. Knowing Scott’s expedition would be following, Amundsen left a note for Scott to be delivered to the King of Norway, in case they did not survive the return journey. They erected a small tent, in which his three companions also left notes, a pair of mittens and a sextant navigation device for Scott’s party to find. They then made their way safely back to the Fram.

"Never has a man achieved a goal so diametrically opposed to his wishes. The area around the North Pole—devil take it—had fascinated me since childhood, and now here I was at the South Pole. Could anything be more crazy?"

Roald Amundsen


The Fram is on permanent display at The Fram Museum, Oslo.

Above: Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting (l–r) at "Polheim", the tent was erected at the South Pole on 16 December 1911. The top flag is the Flag of Norway; the bottom is marked "Fram".